Focal Points Blog

Libya Intervention Making a Mockery of Political Correctness

The extent to which Libya has rendered the concept of political correctness irrelevant on not only the left, but the right, is breathtaking. For instance, Juan Cole writes:

I am unabashedly cheering the liberation movement on, and glad that the UNSC-authorized intervention has saved them from being crushed.

To Cole — whom I’m uncomfortable criticizing because of how valuable he usually is — those who felt otherwise bear a heavy burden.

If the Left opposed intervention, it de facto acquiesced in Qaddafi’s destruction of a movement embodying the aspirations of most of Libya’s workers and poor, along with large numbers of white collar middle class people. Qaddafi would have reestablished himself, with the liberation movement squashed like a bug and the country put back under secret police rule. The implications of a resurgent, angry and wounded Mad Dog, his coffers filled with oil billions, for the democracy movements on either side of Libya, in Egypt and Tunisia, could well have been pernicious.

But the Telegraph reported that the rebel forces incorporate elements of al Qaeda.

Abdel-Hakim al-Hasidi, the Libyan rebel leader, has said jihadists who fought against allied troops in Iraq are on the front lines of the battle against Muammar Gaddafi’s regime. . . . In an interview with the Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore, Mr al-Hasidi admitted that he had recruited “around 25” men from the Derna area in eastern Libya to fight against coalition troops in Iraq.


The libel put out by the dictator, that the 570,000 people of Misrata or the 700,000 people of Benghazi were supporters of “al-Qaeda,” was without foundation. That a handful of young Libyan men from Dirna [reflecting the Telegraph piece, no doubt — RW] and the surrounding area had fought in Iraq is simply irrelevant. . . . All of the countries experiencing liberation movements had sympathizers with the Sunni Iraqi resistance; in fact opinion polling shows such sympathy almost universal throughout the Sunni Arab world. All of them had at least some fundamentalist movements.

However true that may be, it’s awkward, to say the least, when supporting a U.S. action requires defending possible al Qaeda involvment. Equally as difficult is defending our intervention in Libya when we’ve abstained in other hot spots (not to mention the Congo and Darfur). As Conn Hallinan writes in a Focal Points post titled Is the Libya Intervention Directed at China?: “Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, or Yemen, where civilians are also being shot up, beaten, and generally abused.” By way of explaining he cites the familiar refrain “It’s all about the oil.”

Okay, here is the cynical joke: “Is it all about oil? Nope. Some of it is about natural gas.”

Not just our access to it either, but blocking China’s.

Insuring access to oil and gas is a major focus of Chinese foreign policy, particularly because Beijing is nervous about how it currently obtains its supplies. Some 80 percent are transported by sea, and all of those routes involve choke points currently controlled by the U.S.

Thus, the Chinese, no doubt, understand a key reason

. . . why the U.S. is bombing Libya and not challenging Bahrain and Yemen: Bahrain hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet [which] controls the Hormuz Straits, through which Saudi Arabian, Iranian, and Omanian oil passes. [Meanwhile] Yemen’s port of Aden dominates the Red Sea [and the Fifth] dominates the straits of Bab el-Mandab that control access to the Red Sea and through which Sudan’s oil is shipped into the Indian Ocean. In addition the Malacca Straits between Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula is the major transit point for oil going to China. The U.S. Seventh Fleet controls that choke point.

Hallinan concludes

In the end, it is not so much about oil and gas itself, as the control of energy. Any country that corners energy supplies in the coming decades will be in a powerful position to dictate a whole lot of things to the rest of the world.

A part of me wants to believe that because it’s international and has, one likes to think, a humanitarian component that the Libya intervention has the potential to be a new model. In fact, the current of energy needs always runs through actions such as this like a transcontinental oil pipeline.

Oh, for Those Halcyon Days When Nuclear Weapons Were Scarier Than Reactors

Since nuclear weapons were invented, this is only the third time that nuclear reactors have stolen the spotlight as an existential threat from nuclear weapons, their brother in alarms. In 1957 Windscale (when the core of a nuclear reactor in England caught fire), in 1979 Three Mile Island in 1979, in 1986 Chernobyl. Now Fukushima.

Just in case you’ve forgotten, here’s a reminder of how frightening nuclear weapons are, from Ron Rosenbaum’s new book How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III (emphasis added).

One disturbing result of recent nuclear historiography . . . has been the revelation that even the purportedly more stable nuclear deterrence system of the Cold War produced a far greater number of close calls during the first nuclear era than we imagined. It turns out we weren’t scared enough, or as much as we should have been.

Just because Fukushima will be (presumably) brought under control doesn’t mean we’re safe. For those who believe a meltdown is unlikely, there’s always all those spent fuel rods laying around and the threat of a terrorist attack. While, of course, nuclear weapons are the much greater threat to humanity, we can’t let it eclipse the danger that nuclear energy also poses.

Ed Schultz’s Transformation from Progressive Firebrand to Cruise-Missile Liberal

Ed SchultzWe Are All Neocons Now

Or the Perils of Trusting a Duplicitous President Too Much

As American bombs rain down death and destruction on an Arab nation, a prominent cable news host proclaims, “The president of the United States…deserves the benefit of the doubt and our support in his decision to use military force” because “this is all about democracy.” Readers would be forgiven for faintly hearing those words in the voice of Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly, but would be wrong: it’s MSNBC’s Ed Shultz, writing for the Huffington Post.

Schultz’s employment of tortured logic, misdirection and arrant nonsense is all that seems liberal about this piece; it’s enough to make a body suspect that Schultz’s breathless opposition to the Bush Administration’s foreign policy was borne not of policy principle but partisan hackery.

The deficiencies are manifold and obvious.

Schultz’s confidence in the mission is primarily inspired by the President’s claim that “this won’t be a long-term operation. Matter of days, not a matter of weeks. Not even months.” Perhaps Mr. Schultz would have been kind enough to cite a single example of an American military action that was only as long as its executing President advertised at first. We’ve still got troops in Germany and Korea, and of course our nation-building adventures in Iraq and the former Yugoslavia began as internationally implemented no-fly zones the U.S. supported. Indeed, the President himself has already admitted to having punked Schultz, confessing that this will be a longer engagement than previously announced.

Schultz’s support for the mission is additionally bolstered by its alleged early success. Writes Schultz, “Since we started this mission, Gaddafi hasn’t been killing civilians, his own people.” How he squares this assertion with reports like Reuters’ that “Gaddafi tanks move in again on besieged Libyan city,” his readers are left to wonder. One possibility is that Schultz hasn’t encountered such reports, which implicates him in lousy journalism and irresponsible writing. Another is that he has but won’t say so, which implicates him in conscious mendacity and irresponsible writing.

On the mendacity question, Schultz contends that his support for the war is animated by President Obama’s consistent honesty. “There have been no lies told, no fear games played on the American people by President Obama and his administration.” To Schultz, Obama’s description of 50,000 troops engaging in counter-terror and security missions as the end of combat missions in Iraq indicates a commitment to openness and honesty. Equally forthright was his campaign-era admiration for whistle-blowers (Their “acts of courage and patriotism” should be “encouraged, rather than stifled”) in light of his administration’s treatment of Bradley Manning. Or is it the President’s rabid escalation of the war in Afghanistan (and its expansion over the eastern border into Pakistan, where civilians are routinely killed by secret and illegal drone attacks) that gives Shultz the impression that the Obama foreign policy team is upstanding and trustworthy?

Rather than presenting a case for the invasion, Schultz takes the opportunity to ridicule the Republicans’ critique of it. “Why?” he invites us to ask, “Because he didn’t do it their way? He didn’t go far enough? He actually had a coalition?” It should be said from the outset that, even if the Republicans’ complaints were the stupidest imaginable, that still would not constitute an argument for the wisdom and righteousness of the policy. As it happens, however, they are anything but.

Speaker Boehner, in his letter to the President (PDF), echoes Schultz’ sentiments about the moral defensibility of the action, writing, “The United States has long stood with those who seek freedom from oppression through self-government and an underlying structure of basic human rights.” But among his concerns, Boehner cites his anxiety that “military resources were committed to war without clearly defining for the American people, the Congress and our troops what the mission in Libya is and what America’s role is in achieving that mission.”

Now, perhaps Schultz knows whether Obama wants regime change, a properly observed ceasefire, a partition of the country or merely a change in the Libyan revolution’s momentum in favor of the revolutionaries, but I don’t, and I don’t see how Mr. Boehner’s concern is illegitimate. He asks Obama to detail the mission, the command structure, the policy goals, the length of America’s engagement in the coalition, the projected cost, etc. Which of these does Schultz find Boehner – and the rest of us – unworthy of knowing? That these are the words of an obvious hypocrite (who cares not a whit for these answers in the cases of Iraq and Afghanistan) does not make them wrong or not worth addressing.

No more does the fact that there is a more fulsome coalition attending to the Libyan intervention than did the Iraq one testify to the policy’s rectitude, and as Schultz surely knows being in the minority of many issues, appeals to consensus almost always conceal a sloppy analysis. What but a sloppy analysis would allow Schultz to criticize the GOP, apparently unironically, for having “steamrolled America into two wars” in the same breath as he defends the president who has steamrolled America into a third – readers with a keen memory may recall that the first war was unanimously approved by both congressional houses apart from Rep. Barbara Lee (CA) and the second one on an only slightly less bipartisan basis. So much for a steamroll. By contrast, there hasn’t even been a vote on the Libya matter. Not even a debate.

Schultz already concedes too much by affirming the right of the U.S. to make war in a sovereign nation, claiming humanitarian grounds. Empires always cloak themselves in noble language when moving to attack other countries – the invasion is for civilization or freedom or democracy or human rights. If Schultz can be suckered into supporting a war by the empty promises of a deceitful president, what can’t he be made to do?

The answer seems like it’s: agree with Republicans. Even when they’re right.

J.A. Myerson, Executive Editor of the Busy Signal, is the Artistic Director of Full of Noises and a teaching artist with Urban Arts Partnership. He writes primarily on American Politics and Human Rights. Follow him on Twitter.

Libya: “R2P” and Humanitarian Intervention Are Concepts Ripe for Exploitation

Libya bombingReasonable people can disagree on the appropriateness of the decision by the United States and its NATO allies to attack Libya in the wake of the Gadaffi regime’s offensive against rebel-held cities under the doctrine of “the responsibility to protect.” Though the intervention likely prevented a slaughter, there is no guarantee that it won’t simply protract a bloody military stalemate that could result in at least as many civilian deaths. There are any number of other legitimate concerns raised by those distressed over the fact that there is now a third country in the greater Middle East in which the United States has found itself at war. At the same time, there are also legitimate arguments being made by prominent human rights advocates arguing that there is still a moral imperative for the use of force to avoid a large-scale massacre by a criminal regime.

In any case, let’s be clear: Even if one can justify the war on Libya on humanitarian grounds, this is probably not why it’s actually being fought.

The establishment of a no-fly zone was supported by the League of Arab States, an organization composed primarily of pro-Western autocracies which have shown little hesitance in brutally suppressing their own pro-democracy struggles. There was initially a fair amount of popular support within many Arab countries – even among some pro-democracy activists normally critical of U.S. interventionism – for some limited outside assistance to prevent the Libyan opposition from being wiped out. However, the air and missile strikes have gone well beyond simply protecting civilians from bombings by pro-government forces to active support for an armed opposition. This, combined with the failure of rebels to take greater advantage of the large-scale outside support to regain the offensive, has resulted in growing nervousness, even from top officials. As Arab League secretary general Amr Mussa told reporters, “What has happened in Libya differs from the goal of imposing a no-fly zone and what we want is the protection of civilians and not bombing other civilians.”

Despite its potential of being abused, the concept of an international “responsibility to protect” is both legally and morally valid in theory. National sovereignty should not provide a tyrant protection to unleash a genocidal campaign against his own people. However, as horrific as the military response by Gaddafi towards civilians in suppressing both armed and nonviolent forms of resistance against his autocratic rule, it would naïve to claim that foreign intervention is prompted by Western leaders’ concern about protecting civilian lives. The United States, Great Britain and France have each allied with governments – such as Guatemala, Indonesia, Colombia, and Zaire – which, in recent decades, have engaged in the slaughter of civilians as bad or worse as had been occurring in Libya.

The number of civilian casualties from Gaddafi’s attacks is difficult to verify. Some estimates run as high as 8,000, some as low as 1,000, but most estimates put the number of civilians killed during the five weeks between the start of the uprising and the Western intervention country at approximately 1,700 people, roughly the same number of civilians killed during Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon and its 2008 war on the Gaza Strip combined. Rather than referring those responsible to the International Criminal Court (ICC) or engage in military intervention to stop the slaughter, as has been the case of Libya, both the U.S. Congress and the administration vigorously defended Israel’s assaults of heavily-populated civilian areas and condemned UN agencies and leading international jurists for documenting Israeli violations of international humanitarian law and for recommending that officials of both Israel and its Arab adversaries suspected of war crimes be referred to the ICC.

The principal intellectual advocate of the Responsibility to Protect is Gareth Evans, former head of the International Crisis Group, who has also emerged as one of the most vocal proponents of what he referred to as “the overwhelming moral case” for military intervention against Gaddafi. Ironically, as Australian foreign minister, Evans was a major defender of Indonesia’s genocidal war against East Timor, which took the lives of over 200,000 civilians, and repeatedly downplayed and even covered up for Indonesian war crimes.

Hypocrisy and double-standards regarding military intervention does not automatically mean that military intervention in this case is necessarily wrong. Though many of us familiar with Libya remain dubious, it cannot be ruled out that events could transpire in such a way that this intervention could prove to have saved lives, brought stability, and promoted a democratic transition. However, it would be naïve to believe that the attacks on Libya are motivated primarily by humanitarian concerns. Certainly, there aren’t many Libyans – even those who support foreign intervention on behalf of the uprising – who believe this. Ongoing U.S. support of the Yemeni and Bahraini regimes as they brutally suppress nonviolent pro-democracy protesters raises questions as to why the U.S. is so quick to intervene militarily against the Libyan regime suppressing an armed rebellion by those whose commitment to democracy in more suspect.

As a result, any honest debate on Libya should not be based just upon the question as to whether foreign military intervention is necessary to stop widespread repression. It should also be as to whether the United States should take sides in a civil war. It should also be as to whether democracy can be imposed through air strikes. It should also be as to whether the best way to overthrow dictators is through a foreign-backed armed uprising or – as demonstrated in Egypt, Tunisia, Serbia, Chile, the Philippines, Indonesia, Poland, and dozens of other countries – whether the people of the affected countries themselves be allowed to do so through the power of mass strategic nonviolent action.

Is the Libya Intervention Directed at China?

AFRICOMCynicism is not a healthy sentiment, and as the late Molly Ivins pointed out, it absolutely wrecks good journalism. But watching events in the Middle East unfold these days makes it a pretty difficult point of view to avoid.

Let’s take the current U.S. bombing of Libya. The rationale behind United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 is to protect civilians from being beaten, shot up, and generally abused.

But while this applies to Libya, it does not apply to Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, or Yemen, where civilians are also being shot up, beaten, and generally abused. Is this because Moammar Gadhafi is uniquely evil? Crazier and odder, certainly, but being in the “opposition” in any of those countries is not a path to easy retirement. Civil liberties don’t exist, prisons are chock full of political prisoners, and getting whacked if you don’t like the leader is an operational hazard.

So what’s it all about? Okay, here is the cynical joke: “Is it all about oil? Nope. Some of it is about natural gas.”

Too simplistic? Maybe, but consider the following.

1) In 2009, the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicted that world oil reserves had “peaked” and that over the next several decades supplies would drop and prices would rise. There is some controversy over the study, but there is general agreement that easy-to-get petroleum sources are getting harder and harder to find.

2) Approximately 65 percent of the world’s remaining oil reserves are in the Middle East, as well as considerable amounts of natural gas. Iran has the second greatest reserves of gas outside of Russia.

3) The U.S.—with the largest economy in the world—uses around 21 million barrels of oil per day (bpd). Since it produces only 7.5 million bpd domestically, it imports two thirds of its oil. Its major sources are (in descending order) Canada, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Venezuela, and Iraq.

4) China—the world’s number two economy—uses about 8 million bpd, a demand that is projected to rise to 11.3 million bpd by 2015. Since it only produces 3.7 million bpd domestically, it too relies on imported oil. It main suppliers are (in descending order) Saudi Arabia, Iran, Angola, Russia, Oman and Sudan.

It is estimated that, sometime between 2030 and 2050, China will surpass the U.S. and become the world’s number one economy—provided that it can secure enough energy for its growing industrial needs. Insuring access to oil and gas is a major focus of Chinese foreign policy, particularly because Beijing is nervous about how it currently obtains its supplies. Some 80 percent are transported by sea, and all of those routes involve choke points currently controlled by the U.S. The U.S. Fifth Fleet based in Bahrain controls the Hormuz Straits, through which Saudi Arabian, Iranian, and Omanian oil passes. The Fifth also dominates the straits of Bab el-Mandab that control access to the Red Sea and through which Sudan’s oil is shipped into the Indian Ocean. In addition the Malacca Straits between Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula is the major transit point for oil going to China. The U.S. Seventh Fleet controls that choke point.

China’s nervousness over its sea-based oil supplies is one of the major reasons behind Beijing’s crash naval program, its construction of ports in South and Southeast Asia, and its efforts to build land-based pipelines from Russia, Central Asia, and Pakistan.

The Chinese are also trying to cope with the fact that Iran, its second largest supplier of oil and gas, is currently under international sanctions that have reduced production and cut into China’s supplies. Beijing has invested upwards of $120 billion to upgrade Iran’s energy industry, but recently has had to cut back investments because its banks could end up being sanctioned for helping out the Teheran regime.

The Chinese are not the slightest bit cynical about why the U.S. is bombing Libya and not challenging Bahrain and Yemen: Bahrain hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet, and Yemen’s port of Aden dominates the Red Sea. China can play chess.

As for Libya, the U.S. doesn’t get oil from Libya, but its allies in Europe do. And the current crisis is African Command’s (Africom) coming out party. Up to now the record of the spanking new military formation has been less than impressive. First, no one would host it, because the U.S. military in Africa makes the locals nervous. So it is still based in Germany. Then it coordinated the absolutely disastrous Ethiopian invasion of Somalia that ended up turning most of the country over to the extremist Shabab.

But Libya is a fresh slate for Africom, and that is making the Chinese even more nervous (and explains why they have been so cranky about civilian casualties in Libya). When Africom was in its infancy it war-gamed a military intervention in the Gulf of Guinea in case civil disturbances caused any disruptions in oil supplies. Angola, China’s other major African supplier, is in the Gulf of Guinea. It hardly seems like a coincidence that, at the very moment that African oil supplies become important, the U.S. creates a new military formation for the continent. Africom is currently advising and training the military forces of 53 countries in the region.

Okay, so here you are in Beijing. Your industries are clamoring for power. Media in the United States reflect a growing hostility toward you, with headlines in newspapers reading, “The Chinese Tiger Shows Its Claws,” and U.S. politicians routinely blame you for America’s economic problems. And the U.S. has basically puts its thumb on each one of your oil and gas sources. Nobody is cutting off any supplies at this point, but the implied threat is always there.

In end, it is not so much about oil and gas itself, as the control of energy. Any country that corners energy supplies in the coming decades will be in a powerful position to dictate a whole lot of things to the rest of the world. That’s not cynicism, its cold-blooded calculation. And right now a lot of people in the Middle East are paying the price of the ticket.

More of Conn Hallinan’s work can be found at Dispatches From the Edge.

Consistency Is the Hobgoblin of Those Who Oppose Supporting the Libyan Rebels

Libya BenghaziAs Western intervention against the Qaddhafi regime enters its seventh day, rebels remain enthusiastic. The Arab League, though considerably less enthusiastic, also continues to back the effort. In the United States, however, some commentators have adopted a more critical approach.

One such figure is Glenn Greenwald, who stands out as perhaps the most principled and scathing media critic with a sizeable audience. In a blog post yesterday, titled, “The manipulative pro-war argument in Libya,” Greenwald takes the New Republic’s John Judis to task for asserting that opponents of intervention are indifferent to the rebels’ plight:

[D]o you support military intervention to protect protesters in Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and other U.S. allies from suppression?… Did you advocate military intervention to protect protesters in Iran and Egypt, or to stop the Israeli slaughter of hundreds of trapped innocent civilians in Gaza and Lebanon or its brutal and growing occupation of the West Bank?

Greenwald then delivers the blow: “If not, doesn’t that necessarily mean — using [your own] reasoning — that you’re indifferent to the suffering of all of those people…?”

This rebuttal smartly stands Judis’ logic on its head: those favoring military action in Libya cannot blithely assume that opponents neglect the plight of others when, in truth, most people on both sides of the argument reject military action elsewhere in the world — not out of callousness — but over concern about the consequences of more violence.

The problem, however, is that many bloggers and writers — including one approvingly linked by Greenwald — now brandish this line as an all-purpose rationale for opposing action. “If you do not support military intervention against so-and-so,” goes the argument, “then you are a hypocrite for supporting intervention in Libya; therefore, it is wrong.”

This line of reasoning suffers from at least three logical fallacies.

1. Avoiding The Issue

A failure to solve all the world’s ills does not justify a failure to address one particular ill.

On more than one occasion, defenders of Israeli occupation have pointed to injustices committed by Arab rulers, a deflection which, in their minds, somehow mitigates the brutality of Israeli colonialism. And by the same logic, defenders of apartheid in South Africa could point to atrocities in other parts of Africa to argue that no one should oppose white supremacy until all the continent’s other problems were fixed first.

This paralyzing notion — you should do nothing until you do everything — could be applied to most any situation, and with equally ridiculous results.

In short, pointing to a failure to intervene militarily in crises around the world says nothing about the pros and cons of helping Libyan rebels.

2. A False Equivalency

While it is illogical to make support for military intervention in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, or Israel a precondition for helping Libyan rebels, it is wrong to posit that intervention in those countries would be equivalent to the mission in Libya in the first place.

In the case of America’s allies, the administration could likely stop the bloodshed by ending its military, diplomatic, and political cover for the oppressive regimes. That would place serious pressure on rulers who depend on American enablement and impede their ability to inflict violence on their victims.

With Qaddhafi, those levers of influence are absent.

3. Consistent Immorality is No Virtue; Inconsistent Morality is a Lesser Vice

The heart of the popular anti-interventionist argument — “you are a hypocrite” — is a moral one: but it is a heart that does not beat.

For while it is deplorable that policymakers apply their moral outrage selectively (in accordance with perceived national interests), that does not mean we should abandon the moral impulse altogether for the sake of consistency.

Consider, for instance, a scenario where ten innocent men are lined up to be shot. A bystander intervenes and saves the life of one or two men, but, for whatever selfish reason, leaves the rest to die. Now consider a parallel scenario, wherein the only difference is that the bystander does absolutely nothing and leaves all ten men to their demise.

Which is the better choice: consistency or hypocrisy?

Some arguments against intervention deserve serious consideration. The “hypocrisy” mantra, however, is not one of them.

M. Junaid Levesque-Alam blogs on Islam and America at his website, Crossing the Crescent.

Didn’t Take Long for Libyan Rebels to Hollow the “Humanitarian” Out of “Intervention,” Did It?

The headline to a March 24 Los Angeles Times article by David Zucchino reads Libyan rebels appear to take leaf from Kadafi’s playbook. To wit:

The rebels of eastern Libya have found much to condemn about the police state tactics of Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi: deep paranoia, mass detentions, secret prisons and tightly scripted media tours.

But some of those same tactics appear to be creeping into the efforts of the opposition here as it seeks to stamp out lingering loyalty to Kadafi. Rebel forces are detaining anyone suspected of serving or assisting the Kadafi regime, locking them up in the same prisons once used to detain and torture Kadafi’s opponents.

And who are these “suspected mercenaries and government spies”? “Libyan blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa,” Zucchino reports.

“We know who they are,” said Abdelhafed Ghoga, the chief opposition spokesman. He called them “people with bloodstained hands” and “enemies of the revolution.” Any suspected Kadafi loyalist or spy who does not surrender, Ghoga warned, will face revolutionary “justice.”

At one detention center, a

. . . young man from Ghana bolted from the prisoners queue. He shouted in English at an American reporter: “I’m not a soldier! I work for a construction company in Benghazi!” . . . The Ghanaian was one of 25 detainees from Chad, Niger, Sudan, Mali and Ghana described by opposition officials as mercenaries, though several of them insisted they were laborers.

All too easy to finger immigrants and those of a darker hue. Meanwhile, it’s characteristic of rebels that they often fail to understand that, when applied to justice, the use of the word revolutionary doesn’t refer to its definition as a novelty. Justice isn’t a new car you’re taking for a joy ride. Ideally, it means that justice in their country is finally afforded an opportunity to be what it’s meant to be — truly just.

Gaddafi’s Genocidal Buzzwords No Doubt Sent up Red Flag to Samantha Power

Ban Ki-moon, Samantha Power(Pictured: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Samantha Power.)

Much has been made about the united front that three women in the Obama administraton — UN Ambassador Susan Rice, Secretary of State Clinton, and National Security Council staffer Samantha Power — presented in making the case for intervention in Libya. They’ve been called valkyries, while the men who opposed them — Secretary of State Gates and National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon, among others — have been portrayed as “henpecked.” More likely, the men can’t see intervention except in the most brutally stark terms — to be used only with countries in which a perceived threat to the United States resides.

Though she needed convincing, as has been speculated Ms. Clinton may have influenced by her husband, still ostensibly in a state of penitence for his refusal to commit U.S. troops to quelling violence in Rwanda that metastasized into genocide. Ms. Power, who won the Pulitzer prize for Problem From Hell, her important book about genocide, has long been an advocate of humanitarian intervention and may have been the driving force. Exactly why? I suspect it had something to do with this. The Christian Post reports.

The group was heard singing a song quoting a Gaddafi speech, “Disinfect the germs [rebels] from each house and each room.”

Those words no doubt sent up a red flag to Ms. Power, attuned as she is to the language of genocide. “Disinfect,” “germs,” “insects,” “cockroaches” are terms heard in a state prior to genocidal acts. Now Gaddafi may not be inclined, nor in a position, to incite genocide. But it’s well within his capabilities to approximate it with massacres.

Meanwhile, humanitarian intervention would be ideal if it were always under the aegis of the United Nations and applied evenly — such as to Bahrain, not to mention the Democratic Republic of Congo and Darfur. Oh, and it would be nice if the number of military resources were not open-ended: for example, if intervention in Libya were were contingent upon withdrawal of troops and arms from Afghanistan.

Hey, Syrians, What Are You Complaining About? At Least Deraa Is Not Hama

Deraa protests“The Syrian government is struggling to contain a week-old uprising in the southern city of Deraa, the deepest popular unrest since president Bashar al-Assad took office a decade ago. . . . Syrian officials, clearly unnerved, have flown thousands of security forces into the city and brutally cracked down on demonstrators.”

. . . reports Gregg Carlstrom at Aljazeera. The latest from MSNBC:

The main hospital in the Syrian city of Deraa received the bodies of at least 25 protesters after Syrian forces launched a relentless assault on a neighborhood sheltering anti-government activists.

Carlstrom again:

At the same time, though, he has made a few conciliatory gestures to protesters, like releasing the children whose arrests . . . for writing pro-democracy graffiti . . . helped spark the protests, and sending a delegation of government ministers to meet with protesters. . . . Popular protests have been slow to kick off in Syria, where many have bitter memories of former president Hafez al-Assad’s brutal repression of opposition groups in Hama.

Hama, of course, was the city that the senior Assad attacked in response to violent uprisings by the Muslim Brotherhood and killed 7,000 to 35,000, including about 1,000 Syrian soldiers. In addition, cyanide gas was reportedly used. Yes, a city — the fourth largest — in his own country!

In other words, thank goodness for small favors, Syrians. In fact, you should be counting your blessings. Your president only seems to be suffering sociopathic symptoms, or of Antisocial Personality Disorder, as it’s called in more recent editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Whereas his father was a textbook case.

AFRICOM’s General Ham Waging War from Djibouti

Guelleh Gates(Pictured: U.S. Secretary of Defense Gates and Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh.)

Army Gen. Carter F. Ham, commander of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) arrived on the continent a couple of weeks ago just in time for the big doings. Ham, who had only taken over his new post three days earlier, conferred with local and U.S. military and political officials in the east African nation of Djibouti, in the words of the newspaper Stars and Stripes, just as the United States and other nations debated “whether to place a no-fly zone over Libya.” If that were to happen, the paper said, AFRICOM “would play its first lead role.” Djibouti’s chief of defense, Maj. Gen. Fathi Ahmed Houssein, is said to have “advised circumspection, since any use of military force in Libya would have long-term ramifications.” Ham said he took it under advisement.

Ham’s visit to Djibouti, where the U.S. maintains its only military base on the continent, the timing of it and its subsequent use as coordinating point for the attacks on Libya, speak volumes about the quandary of U.S. policy toward Africa. It forms a contentious backdrop for the tour President Barak Obama in planning there for later this year.

Ham, who once served as an advisor with a Saudi Arabian National Guard Brigade, is based at AFRICOM headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany. That it is not located somewhere in Africa owes to the fact that most African governments view it with, at best, suspicion and all the countries that really matter have refused to host it.

Ham’s predecessor in the job was Gen. William “Kip” Ward, one of the highest-ranking African Americans in the U.S. military. The new chief faces “some tough questions about the mandate and intentions of the nascent command” said Stars and Stripes. Ward “had gone to great lengths to assure African nations that the United States does not seek to build bases on the continent,” the paper said. And “Ham said that while he was looking at other locations in the U.S. and Europe as a long-term command headquarters, and will decide on one next year, he would not rule out Africa, either.”

The troubling little matter of where the command is to be headquartered is something that most major media reports leave out, along with another aspect of the current story. In a number of respects tiny Djibouti could be considered in some ways the Bahrain of Africa.

Since the early 1990s Bahrain has been the site of the U.S. military base at Juffair, home of the headquarters for the United States Naval Forces Central Command and the U.S. Fifth Fleet involving about 1,500 military personnel. Built by the colonial French, Djibouti’s Camp Lemonier is home to about 2,000 U.S. military personnel attached to the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa. But the similarities don’t end there.

There are said to be no foreign correspondents stationed in Djibouti but that’s no excuse for a paucity of news from there. There has been plenty of time to get someone there because, drawing inspiration from events in North Africa, people in Djibouti have taken to the streets in large number since early last month. Their calls for reform have been beaten back by clubs, water cannons and sometimes bullets. Political parties have been outlawed and opposition figures jailed. Last week, the government expelled a group of U.S. election monitors there to witness a disputed presidential election slated for next month. Opposition groups are boycotting the vote because they say the current regime is repressing dissent.

“The country is nominally democratic, but events leading up to the April 8 presidential election appear to show a hard line approach by President Ismail Omar Guelleh at a time when democracy movements are upending administrations,” the Associated Press reported last week from nearby Kenya.

“The unrest in the Arab world has spread south to the small Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti, host to the only official U.S. military base on the African mainland,” wrote Stephen Roblin on ZNet March 10. “In what have been called protests triggered by a wave of political unrest sweeping through the Middle East, Djiboutians numbering in the thousands have taken to the streets in opposition to President Ismail Omar Guelleh, who has held power since succeeding his uncle in 1999. The Guelleh family has maintained its grip over the small nation of 750,000 people since its independence from France in 1977.

“Demonstrations broke out in anticipation of the upcoming election in April, when Guelleh hopes to extend his reign by winning a third term. His bid for presidency comes a year after he scrapped the two-term limit in the constitution in a move the opposition considers unconstitutional.

“The first political rally took place on January 28 and was attended by an estimated 2-3,000 people. Djiboutians continued to organize demonstrations throughout the month of February,” wrote Roblin. “The Guelleh regime responded by ordering state security forces to disperse demonstrators through force and perform mass arbitrary arrests in a campaign to stifle the democratic opposition.”

An estimated 30,000 Djiboutians calling for Guelleh to step down gathered in Djibouti City March 19. (Again, there are only 750,000 people in the country.) They “were met by riot police, who violently dispersed the protesters,” wrote Roblin. “Unlike in Egypt, where citizens temporarily took control over Tahrir Square, state violence in Djibouti successfully repressed the attempt by pro-democracy forces to establish a permanent protest camp in the center of the capital.”

“Djibouti’s primary donor, the United States, is fully aware of the harsh economic conditions facing the country, as well as the government’s poor human rights record and corrupt rule,” wrote Roblin. “But the paymaster has been willing to put aside its unflinching commitment to high principles due to the Guelleh regime’s well-demonstrated reliability as a regional client.

The Guelleh regime is also charged with direct involvement in the US CIA’s secret detention and rendition program that saw alleged terrorism suspects secreted off to foreign locations for interrogation said to have involved torture.

The similarity of Bahrain and Djibouti these days is apparent in another respect: The failure of the U.S. to resolutely condemn the brutal repression by the regime on the former is in line with the soft gloves treatment and even support to the regime in the latter – as Ham’s visit attests.

Events these days in Djibouti certainly shed light on the real scope of AFRICOM’s mission. On March 21, Eric Schmitt of the New York Times wrote from Washington that it was ‘the military’s first ‘smart power’ command. “It has no assigned troops, no headquarters in Africa itself, and one of its two top deputies is a seasoned American diplomat,” he wrote.

“Indeed, the command, known as AFRICOM, is designed largely to train and assist the armed forces of 53 African nations and to work with the State Department and other American agencies to strengthen social, political and economic programs in the region including improving H.I.V. awareness in African militaries and removing land mines.”

Descriptions like that have floated through the media repeatedly over the three years of the command’s existence. And now, suddenly it blossomed into control center for war in a neighboring country.

For three years, critics of AFRICOM in Africa and the U.S. have charged that it serves to militarize U.S. foreign policy in the region, as opposed to aid and diplomacy. Schmitt says Ward and others have consistently emphasized that AFRICOM’s role is “to train African militaries only when requested by governments.”

“Now the young, untested command and its new boss, Gen. Carter F. Ham, find themselves at their headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, setting aside public diplomacy talks and other civilian-military duties to lead the initial phase of a complex, multinational shooting war with Libya,” wrote Schmitt.

Obama will no doubt have trouble explaining that away as he arrives in various African capitals.

Carl Bloice, a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, is a columnist for the Black Commentator. He also serves on its editorial board.

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